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Stoke City vs Manchester City

Paul Lambert has the first real test of his Stoke City reign tonight

Robbie Coppack

Paul Lambert has the first real test of his Stoke City reign tonight, as following a solid start in the hot seat, the former Villa boss has made the Potters difficult to beat in his six games in charge. With four draws but two of them at home against Watford and Brighton it could and maybe should be better. Especially when you think of Charlie Adam’s last-minute penalty miss against Brighton which denied Stoke a vital two points. An away point at Leicester seems a good result on paper, but again it could have been a morale boosting victory, if it wasn’t for a Jack Butland howler which naturally asked questions over the England number one jersey. Cut out the avoidable errors and things could have looked so much rosier up in 13th place, however they still sit in the bottom three.

It’s fascinating to see what kind of approach and philosophy Lambert will adopt long-term; Stoke still have the long ball tag which was well publicised when they came into the Premier League under Tony Pulis back in 2007/08. In May 2013 it was announced that Pulis would be leaving the Britannia, as following unrest within the club regarding their direct and physical style, the club were keen to embark in a new more entertaining direction. Could tika taka, expansive football, once associated almost exclusively with the likes of Barcelona and Madrid be heading to Staffordshire?

Mark Hughes come in and immediately made changes which seemed to be moving the club in a more entertaining direction, despatching some of the older, long ball, physical types such as; Rory Delap, Mamady Sidibe, Matt Upson and Dean Whitehead. The Hughes revolution was underway. Viva La Sparky. Just like many other revolutions throughout history, which have seen the status quo abolished and the people rise up in expectations, Hughes’ transformation of Stoke from hit and hope thugs to classy entertainers was doomed to failure. Following three consecutive ninth place finishes and a 13th place finish in his final season, fans were already questioning Hughes’ position. There was very little to distinguish between the new manager’s efforts and that of his predecessor other than Hughes didn’t strut down the touchline each week dressed like the club mascot who’d been on a drunken trolley dash through the club shop.

Following a series of poor performances and shocking results, most notably getting knocked out the FA Cup away at League Two Coventry City, Hughes was eventually sacked, chairman Peter Coates abandoning his laissez faire attitude towards his managers during the season and pulling the plug on what had become a failed experiment.

With a poor recruitment record that saw millions upon millions squandered on the likes of club-record transfer Giannelli Imbula for£18m and the£12m signing of Saido Berahino, fans were already losing faith in the Welshman and his signings failed to enhance his reputation or his affection with the club’s supporters.

It wasn’t a complete disaster during Hughes’ tenure, some of his signings were impressive with Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic joining the club, while Bojan swapped the Nou Camp for the Britannia in a transfer coup that had many in Europe site up and take notice of the manager’s plans.

It would be harsh to dismiss Hughes’s achievements at the club, as when things were going well, Stoke’s football was pleasing on the eye and their top players played with the swagger which the club craved when they replaced Pulis. However, home wins against Manchester City and Manchester United in December 2015 during the “Stokealona” period was ultimately as good as it got.

Hughes’s cause wasn’t helped by his lack of personality, charisma and an attitude towards the club’s supporters which would make Port Vale fans seem friendly. There was very little loyalty from fans for the manager to fall back on when results were poor as they so often were.

Under Paul Lambert will Stoke City go back to basics, be difficult to beat and ensure that they do the ugly stuff, which they did incredibly well with under Pulis? Or try and play expansive, free-flowing football which is the direction the club desired to go in recent years?

Paul Lambert has had an immediate impact in his previous roles with Norwich, Aston Villa and Wolves and he has certainly made a steady start in charge of Stoke. After taking over at Narrow Road, Lambert gained two successive promotions with the Canaries and established them as a Premier League side before moving on to Aston Villa where he kept the Villains in the Premier League under “difficult circumstances” which made him the exceptional candidate for the job. However, after three years at Villa Park the Scotsman was sacked and replaced by Tim Sherwood.

Lambert’s record of having an immediate impact played a pivotal role in Peter Coates offering the former Villa man the role. Will the Stoke fans take to going back to basics if it means an ugly one-nil wins will help them secure Premier League football next season, or would they prefer to see the more expansive style and risk getting thumped by the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool who Stoke have to face in their remaining nine games?

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